This South Carolina Charmer is Ford Fry’s River Oaks Wine Guy for Good Reason: Seeing the Irony in Sideways and the Good in Research

BY // 08.15.18

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and winemakers, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, I introduce you to some of my friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste.

You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.

Matthew Crawford and I met a few years ago, when State of Grace, the restaurant that employs him, opened. I was in the middle of a few visits to the Ford Fry property for review purposes, and at one point asked to speak to the person who ran the wine program. Crawford appeared at the table a few minutes later, and we proceeded to discuss the restaurant’s list and his background.

I’ve enjoyed every conversation I’ve had with Crawford since that initial encounter.

He’s a son of the American South, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, the city in which he got his start in the restaurant world. He then joined the Ford Fry mini-empire with a move to Atlanta, and moved to Houston to open State of Grace, where you’ll see him talking to guests about their drinking preferences.

His demeanor is one of patience, and no matter if you are new to wine or an old hand, he’ll take the time needed to help you find something good. He’s studying to earn his Master Sommelier diploma, so when you next see him ask him about that.

Introducing Pêche

  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024
  • Bering's Gift's May 2024

PaperCity: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

Matthew Crawford: Chablis is always drinking well and is a perfect Houston Summer wine. Louis Michel is one of my favorite producers, and his 1er cru wines are super classic, delicious and affordable.  You can find his wines at Houston Wine Merchant for around $70. Selvapiana is a top producer from Chianti Rufina (one of the subzones of Chianti DOCG), and their single-vineyard “Bucerchiale”(Sangiovese) is outstanding. You can find it for under $70 most everywhere.

Also, Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast.  Or take Joseph Swan’s wines. You can find beautiful Pinots from him and other producers for under $45.

A fine Chablis.

PC: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.

Tough question and I’m sure my answer would be different depending on when/where I was with my studies when asked, but I’d have to say probably Weingut Keller’s “G-Max” from the Rheinhessen. He sources Riesling from the best (and undisclosed) sites in the Roter Hang in the Rheinhessen, and it is crazy expensive! I have not yet had the opportunity to experience it, so that will be my answer for now.

PC: What is your favorite grape, and why?

Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir.  These wines, when expressed through the lens of a great vineyard and skilled vigneron, have the ability to transform any experience into something memorable, pleasurable and ethereal.

PC: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day?

Cathy Corison’s “Kronos Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is always a showstopper and will age very well. Ridge’s “Monte Bello” Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA ages unbelievably well, and the wines take this beautiful turn around 25 years of age. They are truly splendid and unique wines that are just outstanding and very special.

Cathy Corison, a woman of wine. (Courtesy Corison Winery)

PC: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?

Well, 13 Celcius is always the place I end up when looking for a delicious glass, or several. Adele does a fantastic job with the program, and there is always very interesting and delicious and great-value wines to be enjoyed.

PC: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

Drink what you like and be unapologetic about it!  Trying new wines is always something I would suggest as well.  Explore and be curious, and while there will be some misses (likely), when you find one that speaks to you it is a very impactful moment. Also, for me, the story of the wine — the people, place, history — and knowing some insight about these things truly allows me to have a deeper connection to the wine and in turn a richer experience with it.

PC: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

It was a bottle of Domaine Serene “Evanstad Reserve” (Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley) that I recommended to a guest in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2004. It was the first wine that I decided to do research on so I could accurately describe it to someone and create enough interest for them to make the investment. The guests sat at table 18 of the mom-and-pop steakhouse I was working in and ordered a tomato and mozzarella salad, brie with peach and cherry chutney, two bone-in filet mignons, risotto, creamed spinach, and a chocolate mousse for dessert, along with the Domaine Serene I recommended.

They were blown away by the wine and how it worked with the food, and were very impressed with my “knowledge.” They took great care of me and left me a glass of the wine to enjoy later, and on their way out made sure the owners knew how appreciative they were. (We eventually became great friends and still keep in touch to this day.) I was 100 percent hooked and knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

PC: What has been the strangest (or angst-ridden) moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

Having the opportunity now to work with, sit wine exams, and volunteer with beverage professionals and experts whom I have looked up to for my entire career. Extremely humbling and gratifying, to say the least.

PC: Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature, film, art, or pop culture?

Hmmm… the first one that jumps to mind is the final scene of the movie Sideways, where the character is drinking the 1961 Cheval Blanc out of a Styrofoam cup, and the irony of looking back at the negative impact that movie had on the perception of Merlot in the market, when in fact this bottle and this wine (which is the dominant grape in Cheval Blanc) played such a major role in the character’s life.

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Houston’s Wine Whisperer Has a Soft Touch
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Mr. Pinot Noir: Donald Patz of Patz & Hall
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